Wednesday, September 3, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 246): "RUBBER RING" (1985) The Smiths

All the “back to school” biz is making me recall college days and the return to classes in September. And that time—for me, the late 80s—takes me to The Smiths, who, with a few other bands—like the Mekons and The Cure—more or less presided over those days. I had a tape of Louder Than Bombs and played it quite a bit driving to school (I commuted). And one semester, earlier, my second year, I was “between cars” when the white Honda finally died, its mileage astronomical. During that time, I got a ride with a fellow student who got me to listen to The Smiths more seriously, all because she heard on the radio often “There is a Light that Never Goes Out.”  So that was the fall of 1986.

In thanks for the rides, I made Karen several tapes culled from my collection, including today’s song which I can remember her commenting on approvingly—“you’re older now and you’re a clever swine”—so I’ll dedicate today’s post to her, wherever she may be. From one clever swine to another.

She had an interesting—very 80s—approach to hair and couture and was in love with the hair of Robert Smith of The Cure. So maybe I should’ve dedicated a Cure song to her, but today’s song has the feel I want. Morrissey, in his usual somewhat arch but somewhat sincere fashion, takes stock of “the songs that made you cry / And the songs that saved your life.”  And even gives us the perspective of the song as it plays: “I’m here with the cause / I’m holding the torch / In the corner of your room, can you hear me?” It sounds so plaintive. And that bit about “when you lay in awe on your bedroom floor.” That recreates for me the experience of discovering a lot of the songs I’ve been posting about, and it also captures that sense of the songs “so easily outgrown,” that “Rubber Ring” is about.

Which is brilliant, in its way. To write a song about the songs that one loved then forgot, the songs that “changed your life,” but then your life changed again. I must confess though, for all my willingness to make my life take its cues from the music I listen to—the “soundtrack of a life” thing—that I don’t know that I get so goosey about it as the song does. And that’s because, I think, the songs of my past aren’t trapped in the past. I’m always ready to strike up a new relation to them, as with most people I’ve ever met, regardless of whether I knew them well or not.

Which is a way of saying that music is a living thing, almost. It changes as we change. True, it doesn’t age the way people do—all you have to do is watch a performer sing a song he first sang 20 years ago to see that—but it’s not frozen either. The recording is preserved and endures and sounds “just like” when you first heard it, empirically. But that’s the part that all this talk on this blog is meant to gainsay. No song sounds “just like” when you first heard it and every subsequent listening is different. Sometimes I just want to talk about the song; sometimes I want to talk about hearing the song, getting to know it. Sometimes, in a way, I’m talking about leaving the song where it remains.

Hearing “my voice in your head” as Morrissey sings that is on the money. Because even as I hear him singing that I’m hearing his voice in my head from previous times I heard him sing that and times I heard the line in my head when the song wasn’t playing. And I do think of him kindly for that. And of Karen, and of the white Honda, and of the gray Honda, and of Robert Smith and a time—“you make me feel like I am fun again”—called college.

Everybody’s clever nowadays

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